Category Archives: Bit of politics

The future, and other things I have no idea about

I’ve not been blogging here a lot lately. Partly because I’ve been doing that horrible thing known as “working for money and trying to forget”, partly because now that Facey and Insty exist, there’s no real need to stick amazing holiday photos up here, and partly because Brexit has completely fucked up my predictions and comprehensions about how the world goes.

Instead, here are some very different views (reproduced with permission) from very clever people who I know and respect on the future of the UK and how that affects the future of Labour. I struggle to disagree with any of these positions, which is unfortunate, because they are somewhat incompatible.

Richard / Academic:

I know many people who were heavily emotionally invested in Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, so I understand strong reactions to the Parliamentary Labour Party’s coup: feelings of betrayal, anger, frustration, sadness, outrage.

What I can’t understand is denial that it has happened or what that implies. It is unprecedented to ask the country to elect a PM who does not command the confidence of the government that he would need to lead. The reason it is unprecedented is that it is an obviously terrible idea. It is mad.

Voters up and down the country will be perplexedly asking their Labour MPs “You said that you didn’t have confidence in Corbyn, so why are you now saying that I should?”

Tom / Nurse:

Jeremy Corbyn is taking the honest strategy of canvassing and sticking to his beliefs that he has fought for for the last 30 years. By the time the next election comes along the country will see that the media can’t lie about him longer than he can be him.

The “coup and constant infighting” ( which he isn’t rising to) is led by those elected not following the wishes of those who elected them. The huge rise in party members shows that. For MPs to lie is normal; for MPs to go against the majority wishes of those who voted for them is just shameful. The current situation isn’t working for the people under the Tories – and I don’t see any natural Labour voters voting for people like Smith, who abstained on cutting welfare and has no real policy alternative.

It’s sad that, like myself, many traditional Labour voters have become middle class – but they’ve forgotten where they came from and the hardships it entails. This leads to leaning to the middle with the loss of real socialism, and  forgetting how a little help makes a big difference to those on the breadline. It’s just so disheartening.

John / Banker:

Brexit will be discredited as the reduction in investment and rise in unemployment bite over the next several months. The autumn financial statement will likely be a horror show and next year’s budget even worse. Davies, Boris and Fox will end the year empty handed without the treaties they promised would be easy to negotiate when they campaigned for Brexit. The constitutional problem with Scotland and Northern Ireland needs more time to fester.

While the government is tilting at windmills, the cost of denying the Blairites the chance to regain control of the Labour Party is not that high.

It is much more important to give the PLP conspirators a thrashing and continue a radical reorientation of Labour Party policy to the relief of poverty and effective housing and regional policies.  Maybe next year a challenger will emerge who is more effective as a leader and yet embraces the politics of inclusion rather than elitism. Owen Smith is most unlikely to be that person.

Do you have a completely incompatible position on the current state of the UK that I also have sympathy towards? Why not post it in the comments?

 

Southern Railway, now arriving in 1973

I did a piece at Citymetric on why the disastrous shenanigans at Southern Railway are actually a resumption of a very old battle. They paid me a lot less than a Southern Railway guard gets for the same hours. I probably enjoyed it more, though.

Image: an EMD E6A leading the US Southern Railway’s The Tennessean (public domain). Used solely to annoy lazy picture editors.

Actually, it’s about ethics in plebiscite campaigning

I’ve refrained from long-form comment on the UK’s EU referendum, partly because the debate is generally painful, but also because there are extremely clever people who’ve already made most of the points I’ve wanted to make.

One thing that I think is worth addressing, though, is the current suggestion that people are switching back to Remain because they “don’t know what Brexit looks like” (thanks to Paul Evans for the formulation here). I think this is definitely true; I also think it’s a positive response to a specific failure within the Leave campaigns [1], not just a fear of change.

The reason “we don’t know what it looks like” is that the people who are in favour of it have polar opposite, completely contradictory visions of what it should look like.

When Scots voted on their Remain/Leave decision, the SNP – to its great credit – published a long document containing the details of exactly what it would do in the event of independence. Some of these were criticised for over-the-top optimism about the actions of rUK and the EU, and others on the basis of their effect, but crucially Scots knew what the people in charge after a Leave vote would try to do [2].

That simply doesn’t exist for the UK EU referendum. The Leave campaigns, all of which include people likely to be in government in the event that Leave wins, have adopted positions that range from “staying in the free migration zone and the common market” through to “deporting settled EU migrants and relying solely on WTO basic rules for trade access”.

That – not the inherent uncertainty in doing anything that hasn’t been done before – is the crux of the “not knowing what it looks like” problem.

That deliberate, dishonest ambiguity is also why Leave has done far better than it would have done had it been forced to outline what it would actually be attempting to do in the event of a referendum win. As it is, “build a libertarian paradise with no tariffs and open borders”, and “Britain first, deport all the immigrants” types can rally round the same banner, even though they disagree with each other at least as much as they disagree with the current model.

[1] The existence of “Leave campaigns” with an S is probably the tl/dr of this.

[2] The SNP white paper was flawed and optimistic, but at least it was there for you to be able to critique its optimism and flaws. Similarly, a Leave manifesto that committed to a Norway model could reasonably be critiqued on the basis that the EU might not let us have one – but in the actual campaign we’ve seen every model of multilateralism/autarky from Norway through to North Korea thrown up, dependent on what the politician in question thinks the audience wants to hear. “Is their plan credible” is secondary to “do they even have one”…

Electability and absurd arrogance

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next US general election. I also didn’t know what was going to happen in the US electoral primaries, although I don’t think there’s any great shame in admitting the current situation isn’t what I anticipated.

It seems highly likely, at this point, that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate, barring the kind of machinations that haven’t been seen since Andrew Jackson’s day. The Democratic primary process is far closer, although Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by a comfortable-looking margin at the moment.

Mr Trump is a squalid, crooked neo-fascist – basically Silvio Berlusconi with added racism. Anyone saying they know exactly why he’s popular is full of shit, but it’s clearly a combination of angry white bigotry, disillusionment with Washington’s specific flavour of insider crookery, and susceptibility to the daft concept of career success as a marker of general merit (the latter is also why people unfortunately listen to Richard Dawkins’ views on Muslim theology and Barry Humphries’ views on gender theory).

Various people in the pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders camps have suggested over the last couple of months that their candidate is electable, whilst the other candidate is un-electable. I’ve seen more Clinton fans go down this route than Sanders fans, but not by a huge margin.

There are arguments why this might be the case for either candidate. Mr Trump’s success is based on disillusioned white working class male voters, and these are also Mr Sanders’ strong group by a wide margin. On the other hand, Ms Clinton has managed to combine strong popularity among black voters – whose increased turnout compared to previous years was important in President Obama’s success – with grumpy acceptance among moderate centrist Republicans (including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg) as a tolerable alternative to Mr Trump.

But with these good arguments on either side, and given the extent to which punditry in this Presidential race has already failed dismally, anyone who says “you should vote for Ms Clinton/Mr Sanders in the primary because they’re the only one who’s electable” is an absurd arrogant fool.

My preference is that the clown show leaves town

Like most countries founded by people with a passionate and blind terror that they might at some point be subjected to democracy, Australia has a Senate with more-or-less absolute veto power over its House of Representatives.

As in many federal countries, Australian Senators are allocated on a state-by-state basis, not on a citizen-by-citizen basis. The result is that a Senate voter in Tasmania (population 550,000) has more than 12 times the say of a Senate voter in New South Wales (population 7.5 million).

In other words, the Senate is entirely unrepresentative by deliberate design, and anyone who cares at all about voter representation should solidly be lobbying to either abolish state-by-state voting or to abolish the Senate itself.

There is currently a mass debate about Senate reform in Australia. Unsurprisingly, it consists of absolutely none of this, but instead is an absurd and unedifying clown show. The net result is that the Green Party and the Liberal (conservative) Party have agreed a reform deal that tinkers slightly with the voting system, and various people on the political left are displeased.

The ABC’s excellent commentator Antony Green has the gory details,  but in short (detail brutalised for clarity; not importantly for these purposes, but make sure to plagiarise Antony and not me for your civics class):

  • Under the current system, you go to the election booth, be given a list of parties standing in the Senate, tick a box for your favourite, and then if they fail to get in, then your preferences are distributed according to a list that they have created in advance, all the way from Candidate #1 to Candidate #200.
  • Under the new system, you will go to the election booth, be given a list of parties standing in the Senate, number your favourites from one to six (and continue after six until you’ve numbered everyone or can’t be bothered to write any more), then your preferences will be distributed according to the order you wrote. If everyone you’ve listed gets eliminated, your vote gets thrown away.
  • Both systems also give you the option to number your own candidates from #1 to #200 if you are weird, but nobody actually does this. Under the current system you must number all boxes; under the new system you will only have to number 12 boxes but can number more if you like.

The most important thing about this change is it makes very little difference to what normal voters do, which is to vote 1 for Labour, Liberal or Greens, preference whichever of the other two they hate the least above the one they hate the most, and then number as many other boxes as they are grumpily made to.

The second most important thing about the change is that it’s a very minor improvement on the status quo. Normal people will be making their own choices, rather than following a dodgy list that’s inevitably compiled for tactical rather than ideological sympathy reasons. Weird people will no longer get hand cramp from numbering 200 boxes.

So why on earth is there an outcry?

Well, the only people who lose out from this process are old-school corrupt party machine politicians who trade votes like commodities… I wonder if these people have privileged access to media platforms at all?

He was watching the defectives

Extremely sad to hear about the sudden unexpected death of long-time friend, crony and partner in crime Tom Barry, of BorisWatch and @boriswatch fame.

Tom provided exactly the kind of hard-nosed, subject-expert and ruthless research and writing into London’s terrible mayor and supine general assembly that nobody in traditional local journalism has (bothered to do / had time for) in decades.

He did this while carrying on a day job as a telecoms expert and being a fully committed dad to two  adorkable boys aged under 11*, and whilst being at the very least a good enough partner to Ish that she put up with him for the whole timeframe.

And he was only 41, and this has broken me a bit. Young people get run over or end their lives or  have tragic but long-running illnesses, they don’t just die, that isn’t how it works. They don’t send pics from beer gardens the same month they die of glorious fun with the kids they love mockingly labelled “when will the torture of parenthood end?” because the fucking concept that it might is ridiculous.

This blog seems to be eulogy-focused lately. Unlike Meg Williams , as well as not being  in his 80s, Tom had a great deal of internet presence – but the two share the context of having touched shedloads of lives for the better. Also, CAN EVERYONE FUCKING STOP DYING?

Two updates.

One: Tim Fenton has written a great piece on Tom’s extremely well researched ‘blogging’ (or ‘investigative journalism’, as it used to be called when paid journalists could be bothered to do it) exploits.

Two: I wrote this at the start of day on 3 November (AEST – lat night 2 November GMT) when the news was under semi-embargo from family. Even since then, I’ve had at least one thought on naval history where I  thought “I’ll ask Tom about this one… fuck.

*I fully expect to get a write-in comment from Tom’s eldest saying “actually I am 11 so I’m not under 11”, because did I mention adorkable? Hopefully I’ll be able to ask him for naval history clarifications in due course.

Today we’re all gay Americans

Congratulations, the US Supreme Court, for making a sensible decision based on Constitutional precedent that horrendous rightwing idiots will pretend is overreach until long after we’re all dead.

To celebrate, here is a nostalgic musing on religion in education.

There was a strange Welsh Baptist chemistry teacher at my high school who ran a renegade version of the Christian Society (the actual Christian Society was run by a nice Quaker chap who was extremely ecumenical and earnest).

It showed exposes by American Southern Baptist churches about how evil everything was. Including a four-part series about how evil rock and roll was.

Naturally, we pitched up to this every lunchtime, on the grounds that rock and roll and bearded Southern Baptists explaining exactly how evil rock and roll was were both more fun than a drizzly field in Guildford.

My favourite bit was when at the end of the final episode, the Southern Baptist presenter explained that not all modern music was bad, to the accompaniment of some utterly awful evangelical Christian Rock dirge, and Mr Jenkins paused the tape to point out to us that actually all modern music is very bad indeed.

We affirmed his opinion that this music was, indeed, very bad. He seemed happy.